Belfast International Arts Festival Shines Spotlight On The Digital Stage

Eileen McClory BIAF
Eileen McClory BIAF

Today, Monday 12th October, marks the official opening of the 58th annual Belfast International Arts Festival (BIAF).

As Northern Ireland’s leading contemporary arts festival, BIAF boasts an imaginative and inspirational programme of events curated for the unique times we live in.

Continuing the festival’s history of programming ground-breaking theatre in the city, BIAF this year will host three innovative digital theatrical productions by local and international companies.

Hosted virtually, the 2020 festival is providing theatre lovers around the world the opportunity to see captivating new shows developed for the digital stage.

Festival Director Richard Wakely said: “In recent months, due to the restrictions facing the arts and cultural sectors, theatre companies – and indeed artists and innovators from right across the creative industries – have adapted their approach to storytelling to leverage evolving digital technologies and to showcase world-leading theatre remotely.

“Belfast International Arts Festival has a rich history of showcasing the very best theatre from local and international production companies and we’re very pleased to be able to continue that tradition in 2020.

“This year, we will host two local companies – Big Telly Theatre Company and Cahoots NI – who are leading the way in programming interactive, immersive and compelling productions specifically for the digital stage.”

These events, he says, are unlike similar digital productions that rose to prominence in recent months.

“Importantly, these productions are interactive, not passive. With that comes another layer of complexity in delivering a seamless production that is directed and performed remotely. It also demonstrates how much the storytelling medium has progressed in a relatively short space of time. In April and May, when the digital stage came to the fore, audiences were spectators consuming stories.

“However, now we’re seeing a shift in focus to a strategy that is aimed at ensuring the best elements of the theatrical experience – audience engagement and interaction – are reflected in new productions in this era of the digital stage and our socially distanced world.”

The festival will open with the premiere of a new online and interactive theatrical production of Macbeth by the Portstewart-based Big Telly Theatre Company, a world leader in live digital theatre. Opening first to secondary schools before being available to the general public from Wednesday 14 to Saturday 17 October, this imaginative reboot of Shakespeare’s timeless, blood-soaked tale is performed live on Zoom and loaded with technology for a fully immersive experience.

Leading children’s theatre company Cahoots NI will present The University of Wonder & Imagination (Thursday 22- Sunday 25 October and Thursday 29 October – Sunday 1 November) a production which promises to be a fun-filled, immersive theatrical experience for families, and will be broadcast from an extensive, purpose-built set where magic and illusion have no boundaries.

Continuing with the festival’s theatre offering, Portuguese theatre maker and performer Pedro Penim’s will present DOING IT (Wednesday 21 and Thursday 22 October). This livestreamed event, dubbed a lecture-performance, will take the audience on a virtual journey across Pedro’s ‘island collection’, learning about these hidden places, exploring themes of isolation, and discussing his secret obsession with our planet’s most remote islands.

For more information about Belfast International Arts Festival and to book tickets, visit belfastinternationalartsfestival.com.

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